August 09, 2010

Internship Visit to ORBIS

Blog submitted by Dillon Van Auken

Dillon Van Auken is a student from ACS International School, through ORBIS' partnership with ACS Dillon was selected to participate in an internship for that allows students to take part in an ORBIS program overseas. 

Today featured the commencement of ORBIS’s Da Nang program in the form of screening day, over which the ORBIS doctors (known as Volunteer Faculty or “VF’s”) examined around twenty-five patients to determine appropriate later treatment. 

As today was quite busy in preparation for the rest of the week, our job as interns was to mainly observe the doctors and identify prospective case-studies that we will be writing as the week goes on. Each of us went to certain specialty screening rooms, which included retinopathy, led by Dr Hampton; glaucoma, led by Dr Piltz-Seymour; and paediatrics, led by Dr Black. Gradually we moved in between rooms to grasp the wide array of ocular problems facing the local people and the subsequent treatment that they would be receiving from ORBIS.

Each doctor would examine the patients in front of several hands-on trainees, local doctors from Da Nang, other areas in Vietnam, and some from Cambodia and Laos. The doctor would examine the patient’s eyes with various instruments, whilst also explaining the observations to the hands-on trainees. It was truly amazing to watch the doctors do this, as they had to cope with actual treatment of a patient, teaching, and a language barrier all at once. Despite these tough requirements, each did so very calmly and efficiently.

After observing each patient, the doctors would decide whether to perform surgery on the Flying Eye Hospital, the Da Nang Eye Hospital, or to postpone surgery for local doctors to carry out at a later date. From each section, four patients were chosen to go to the Flying Eye Hospital, four were chosen to go the Da Nang Eye Hospital, and the rest were selected for later surgeries, although some did not require surgery at all.

ORBIS ACS Visit Da Nang 2010 Neha Lalani Dillon Van-Auken Jhenielle Reynolds Shaghigh Aryan (Westminster Academy) (7)So far, this trip has already been extremely moving and inspirational for me personally.  Observing the doctors today was one of the few times in my life where I have seen people be genuinely selfless and devoted to helping others.  Often, even in charity work, self-interest is still a major motivator, yet these doctors as well as the entire ORBIS staff are committed to genuine philanthropy. It was also very emotional to see the numerous patients, many of them children, with very severe eye conditions that could have been prevented with greater infrastructure and development. Yet, the sadness of their conditions is counteracted by the optimism that they will have treatment this week through the help of ORBIS. It will be great to see their progress at the hands of the wonderful ORBIS staff over the week.

August 05, 2010

An Unforgettable Year

Blog submitted by Dr Grace Prakalapakorn. Grace has been an ORBIS staff ophthalmologist onboard the Flying Eye Hospital for the past year.

Hello and Welcome aboard ORBIS!. Please find your seats, ensure your seat backs are in the upright position, tray tables are stored and your seat belts are fastened. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight! 

Grace  A year in the life of a staff ophthalmologist aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital was a busy one. There was always a lot of work to do and never a dull moment. When we were in plane mode, the days began early, often ended late and we would sometimes work for three straight weeks without a day off! Even when we had a “day off,” we would on occasion hold vision screenings or community outreach projects in schools or within a community. Off the plane, the work did not end. I conducted clinical reviews of surgical patients, helped with hospital based programs, evaluated local eye centers and hospitals and worked on program planning for upcoming programs. 

This year, I wore many hats alongside that of a staff ophthalmologist, including but not limited to a biomedical engineering assistant, ER doctor, tour guide, plane custodian, circulating OR nurse, community outreach volunteer, patient advocate, Cyber Sight® contributing author, character in a documentary, educator, student, goodwill ambassador, and even flight attendant (would you like some cream and sugar with your coffee?)!! ORBIS offers opportunities not only to the patients and doctors that participate in its programs, but also to its staff: how many people can say they’ve been to Nigeria 4 times in 8 months?! :)  

Grace2  Being a part of the Flying Eye Hospital was a very unique and rewarding experience. The most memorable part of the year was the people: the patients and their families, host doctors, crew members and our fabulous volunteers. One of the most memorable moments of my year was hearing the cries and tears of an elderly lady as her patch was removed the day after cataract surgery. She had been living with bilateral cataracts for many years and had become dependent on those around her due to her poor vision. Another is watching a young infant take those first few steps and walk around by herself after cataract surgery, whereas before surgery she was too timid to leave her mother’s arms because of her severe visual impairment. These are not uncommon stories you will hear around the world and to reflect about the difference we made in their lives and those of their families and communities by making them more independent and less of a burden on the resources of those around them. It always brings a smile to my face knowing that I was a part of that. But the work we do goes beyond these two individuals, we work to build capacity and enable and empower the local community, doctors, nurses, engineers, and technicians to care for those around them and hopefully teach others. 

 Thank you ORBIS for the work you do and for a wonderful year!!

Photos by Perry Athanason

June 17, 2010

Follow up with Bello from Niger

Blog Submitted by Amna Al-Gallas, MD

Amna is a Staff Ophthalmologist on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital. Amna joined the crew in February 2010.

It was the last day of my one-week return visit to Niger as I went back to follow up our patients who were operated on there, almost two months before, during our first Flying Eye Hospital program ever in Niger. It was another hot long working day that was only made easy by the smile of grateful patients whom I have examined as they tried to express how happy they were with the results. By the end of the day, I was informed that there were no more patients waiting and that some patients could not show up because they lived far away. I started to collect my papers and equipment but my mind was busy, as if something was missing and I decided to wait and use the time to do some paper work. Few moments later, a child came running to me. She was wearing a beautiful pink dress and a big smile on her face. She handed me a plastic bag with ORBIS logo on it and uttered few words in local language which I couldn’t understand. She opened the bag, took out a pair of glasses and put them on, I then recognized the little angel right away, “It’s you, Bello!” I said, smiling back at her.

Bello and Amna pose for picture
 Her mother came afterwards, apologizing for being late and expressing how happy and enthusiastic her daughter was to come. Bello was a 7-year old girl from Niger who came to ORBIS through our rural outreach screening program in Libore. At that time she had opacities in both eyes which largely compromised her vision. She underwent a certain laser procedure, to remove the opacities, and she was given specific type of glasses to help improve her vision. I examined her and she was doing very well with good improvement of vision. Her mother said that since the procedure her daughter was doing better in school and had good grades. She also said that Bello was always wearing her glasses and taking good care of them. After I finished and gave the mother the necessary instructions, Bello gave me a big hug and walked away with her mother, waving goodbye with a great big smile.

I gathered my things and walked out. I looked back at the patients as they were heading home. I was tired, starving and thirsty but I was filled with joy, knowing that another ORBIS mission has succeeded. All the hard work of ORBIS team has paid off and transformed lives in Niger, such as Bello’s, and gave them a new future, a new tomorrow!

See Bello's story below in our Eye Report from Niger.

June 08, 2010

Volcanic Ash Does Not Impair ORBIS Vision

Blog submitted by Lynn Donovan.

The April 2010 Volcano Eruption in Iceland had a massive effect on world travel. It essentially held people captive wherever they were in their travels for approximately 10 days. During this time, ORBIS had Hospital Based Programs scheduled in Africa, and China. I would like to share my story of the effect it had on the staff involved in the Kampala, Uganda Program.

On Saturday, April 10, 2010 Dr Grace Prakalapakorn, and I traveled from Kaduna, Nigeria to Lagos from there we were to go to separate locations. Dr Grace was to go home to Atlanta, Georgia in the US, and I was to go to Kampala, Uganda for another Hospital Based Program. Upon arrival to Lagos, Dr Grace found her flights to be canceled. This caused a dilemma, as she was not to stay in Lagos alone, especially when she was not certain how long it would be before she would be able to travel back to the US. After discussion it was decided the best option was for Dr Grace to travel to Kampala with me, as there would be a confirmed hotel room to rest, and adequate Internet access to plan future travel.

Image1 It was then discovered that Dr Bernadette Martinez was delayed on travel for the program and was still in China trying to reschedule flights to arrive in Kampala. Dr Gordon Douglas, the Volunteer Faculty Surgeon for the Kampala program, was delayed as well, as he had also been re routed. Both Dr Bernadette and Dr Douglas were to arrive Monday, the first day of the program- screening day, but in the afternoon and evening respectively.

After many e mails with our Medical Director, Dr Hunter Cherwek, it was decided that Dr Grace, Dr Jonathan Lord, and myself would go to Mulago Hospital to explain to the Trainee Staff Doctors, and the patients that arrived for screening, that due to circumstances from the Volcanic Ash the doctors scheduled to see them would not be able to do so until the next day. It was a good thing that Dr Grace was there and able to cover in Dr Bernadette’s absence.

When Monday evening came around Dr Douglas and Dr Bernadette had both safely arrived in Kampala. The program went on with screening day on Tuesday and one less surgical day, however all 10 surgeries were performed in the two surgical days and all aspects of the Kampala Hospital Based Program were accomplished. Dr Grace was finally able to travel on Wednesday via the long way home. This was a very memorable event for me as I am sure there are stories around the world of the Volcanic Ash influence on the lives of others.

ORBIS was able to provide much needed services even when a natural disaster had occurred, and once again through teamwork and determination to achieve the ORBIS mission and goals of “saving sight worldwide.”

May 26, 2010

First Time Volunteer

Blog submitted by Mr. John Brookes

Mr. Brookes is a volunteer ophthalmologist from the United Kingdom. This is Mr. Brookes first time volunteering with ORBIS.

Having just returned from my first ORBIS program in Dalian, China, I would like to thank the whole ORBIS team for making this an incredible personal and professional experience in my career to date.

I have been involved in several charities over the past 10 years; I try and spend at least 2 weeks each year doing some surgical work abroad and this has taken me to India, Palestine and Egypt on many occasions. Having received several invitations over the past two or three years to take part in an ORBIS program, in my specialty of pediatric glaucoma, I finally succumbed. Admittedly, because first of all, I’ve never visited China before but secondly, I have always been an airplane fanatic having obtained my private pilot’s license in 2004. I was obviously very excited therefore of combining my love of ophthalmology and my interest in all things airborne!

I was incredibly surprised however at the size of the city of Dalian when I eventually arrived. Having never heard of the city before, I expected something a little less enormous. The people were incredibly warm, generous and grateful for all that we were able to offer.

Dr Brookes outside the Flying Eye Hospital
I met my hands-on trainees on the screening day at the base hospital, He Eye Hospital. They were incredibly eager to learn with a constant stream of questions and never seemed bored with my endless lectures, videos and other teaching material.

Following the screening day, I spent the next two days at the base hospital with my hands-on trainees, carrying out glaucoma and cataract surgery on the patients we had identified on the screening day. I was however, extremely anxious to get onto the plane!

The fourth day arrived and I was at last going to board the iconic ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital at Dalian airport. From afar, I could see its majestic outline and the characteristic livery. Boarding the plane for the first time was a truly memorable experience. All my childhood dreams had come true. I sat in the captain’s seat and the maintenance engineer gave me a truly extensive tour of the plane, even going into the bowels of the plane beneath the cockpit and seeing the miles upon miles of electrical cables and wiring, which somehow get this plane in the air.

Setting my excitement aside I had to go into the operating theatre for my first experience of ‘live surgery’, broadcast to the 30 local doctors sitting next door in the lecture room. Fortunately, all went well with the surgery and I ended up quite enjoying myself.

The rest of the airplane was truly amazing; state of the art operating theatres, clinic space and audiovisual equipment we could only dream of at home! Overall, I had a wonderful experience as a medical volunteer and I would like to thank all the staff who organized these programs, which must require so much background work to have them running so smoothly.

Of course I would like to do another mission…..perhaps next time I could fly the plane?

Photo by Perry Athanason

October 07, 2009

A Lesson in Indian Hospitality

Blog submitted by Sasha Vohlidkova

Sasha is a student from ACS Egham International School, through ORBIS' partnership with ACS Sasha was selected to participate in an internship that allows students to take part in an ORBIS program overseas.

Before I went to India, everyone, especially those who have never been near it, had endless advice for me: don’t drink the water, don’t leave your belongings unattended, only carry a photocopy of your passport with you, only go out in groups, do not talk to people in the streets... Along with the overload of reductionist clichés often used to describe the Indian reality, “the third world”, “developing country”, the picture I got of India was one of an incredibly interesting country, but not so much a pleasant one for a visitor.

The group arrives to India As soon as we landed in Jaipur at 2.30am, Friday 18th September, and basically wherever the team came to visit after, a team from ORBIS India or ORBIS’ partners in India was awaiting us with bindis, flower garlands, and the warmest welcomes I’ve received in a long time.

During the ORBIS outreach program in Amber, near Jaipur, I approached a local elderly woman who had come to get her eyes checked at the yearly eye camp. After a couple of minutes of conversation that neither of us knew what was about as she spoke Hindi and I, English, one of the doctors translated for me: “She says you’re very nice and wants you to come to her home.”

Walking along the streets surrounding our hotel around midnight, a man invited us, unknown foreigners, to join a small wedding, the happiest day of his brother’s life. When we replied that we would rather just watch, he briefly asked us how we liked India and directed us to the side of the street where we would have the best view of the celebration.

The evening before our last day, I left my phone in a tuk-tuk and only realized it after the driver had left. Almost immediately, twenty members of the airport staff were trying to help me, offering to get me a taxi, asking where I wanted to go. I said I didn’t know how this country worked and wanted them to tell me what to do. In the following fifteen long minutes, another tuk-tuk driver managed to contact the first one, locate my phone, and get us a taxi back where we came from to pick it up. As we were getting into the car, he smiled and said, “You wanted to know, so this is how this country works.”

And all you can do is look only fifteen minutes back, and all those other times before, when you were anxiously watching your backpack when locals were spending their time, money, in efforts to help a lost stranger. And again, your western superiority hits you over the head with a surprising force, and you shift a tiny bit further away from it. Because you realize this really is how this country works. Except no one tells you that.